Opening Bell: 07.25.13

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Banks Said to Weigh Suspending Dealings With SAC as Charges Loom (Bloomberg)
Deutsche Bank AG and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are among firms weighing the reputational and financial consequences of continuing to provide trading, lending and prime brokerage services to SAC, one of Wall Street’s largest trading clients, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the talks aren’t public. Prosecutors plan to charge SAC, the hedge fund founded by Steven A. Cohen, as soon as today as part of a probe of insider trading, a person familiar with the matter said. ... The banks face a conundrum, either being seen as abandoning a long-term client or assisting a firm targeted for prosecution. At the same time, the companies are seeking to ensure that loans and trading agreements are properly collateralized in case SAC is forced to close, one of the people said.

Credit Suisse Posts $1 Billion Profit (DealBook)
Credit Suisse, one of Switzerland’s largest banks, said on Thursday that profit in the second quarter rose by a third, thanks to higher earnings at its investment banking operation. Profit rose to 1.04 billion Swiss francs ($1 billion) in the three months ended June 30, from 788 million francs in the period a year earlier. That compares with a forecast of 1.017 billion francs by a group of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. ... “Our business model is performing well and we continue to make progress in reducing our cost base and balance sheet,” Mr. Dougan said in a statement.

Lazard Profit Beats Estimates on Asset Management, Merger Advice (Bloomberg)
Lazard Ltd., the biggest independent merger-advisory firm, said second-quarter profit rose 81 percent, beating analysts’ estimates as revenue from asset management and merger advice increased. Earnings rose to $60 million, or 45 cents a share, from $33 million, or 25 cents, a year earlier, the Hamilton, Bermuda-based firm said today in a statement. The average estimate of 11 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for per-share earnings of 33 cents.

How much is Fed aid to U.S. corporate profits worth? (Reuters)
"People underestimate the extent to which quantitative easing has benefited the S&P," said Robbert van Batenburg, director of market strategy at brokerage Newedge USA LLC in New York. He called the effect akin to "an athlete on steroids." The Fed's effect on corporate earnings is difficult to quantify. Van Batenburg estimates that corporate savings on interest expense after rates fell to historic lows has accounted for about 47 percent of S&P 500 earnings growth since 2009.

Fraternities Lobby for Tax Break Without Hazing Penalties (Bloomberg)
About 40 percent of U.S. senators, and 25 percent of U.S. representatives, belonged to fraternities or sororities in college. On April 24, more than a dozen of these grateful alumni extolled Greek life at an annual $500-a-plate dinner in a Washington hotel ballroom for “FratPAC,” the industry’s political arm.
One by one, they took the podium and praised fraternities for teaching them loyalty, leadership, and practical skills. “We learned to tap a keg,” declared Representative Steven Palazzo, a Mississippi Republican and Sigma Chi brother, who then yelled a cheer as hundreds of FratPAC donors applauded.

Merrill bias suit: Women employees claim they were given book urging them to 'stroke men's egos' to advance (NYP)
Female trainees at Merrill Lynch’s flagship Manhattan office were given copies of “Seducing the Boys Club: Uncensored Tactics From a Woman at the Top” by their boss — who also ordered them to attend a talk with the author, three former employees claim in a bias lawsuit. The author encourages women “to stroke men’s egos with flattery and manipulation in order to succeed in a male-dominated environment such as Merrill Lynch,” the suit states. ... They were also pressured to attend gals-only events on topics like “dressing for success” and “preparing healthy meals while working full-time.”

Bond Investors Turn to Cash (WSJ)
Investors withdrew an estimated $43 billion from taxable bond mutual funds last month, the largest-ever monthly outflow, according to the Investment Company Institute. The debt-market swoon was fueled by worries that the Federal Reserve was softening its commitment to keeping interest rates low. Rising interest rates mean lower bond prices. Many observers expected to see those flows turn to funds tracking U.S. stocks. But in a twist, the main beneficiary of the rush out of bonds has been money-market funds, which are cash-like investments that appeal to safety-minded investors.

Facebook shares leap on mobile ad surge (FT)
Facebook shares leapt as much as 20 per cent in after-hours trading in New York on Wednesday after the social networking company beat analyst expectations on revenues and profits. On a pro forma basis tracked by Wall Street, second quarter net income rose 65 per cent to $488m compared with the same quarter last year on revenues up 53 per cent to $1.81bn, ahead of analysts’ expectations of $1.62bn. Earnings per share of 19 cents exceeded expectations of 14 cents per share. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer, said spending increased across all categories of advertisers. Ecommerce companies, in particular, doubled spending, and the number of local businesses advertising on the site globally also doubled to 1m.

Nasdaq earnings slip on deal costs, while revenues rise (Reuters)
Nasdaq OMX Group reported on Wednesday a lower second-quarter profit, mainly due to acquisition costs related to the closing of two deals by the transatlantic exchange operator. Net income attributable to Nasdaq totaled $88 million, or 52 cents per diluted share, down from $93 million, or 53 cents a diluted share, a year earlier. Nasdaq closed a $390 million deal to buy Thomson Reuters's investor relations, public relations and multimedia services businesses, during the quarter. It also completed a $750 million deal to buy electronic Treasurys-trading platform eSpeed from BGC Partners.

Hong Kong boosts renminbi liquidity to ease credit crunch (FT)
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has taken fresh steps to improve renminbi liquidity, a month after a credit crunch in China spread to the city’s banking system. Hong Kong’s central bank announced on Thursday it would add two additional renminbi lending facilities to its existing seven-day liquidity tap. As of July 26, the HKMA will offer one-day funds, as well as overnight funds in renminbi.

Rich Move Assets from Banks to Warehouses (Spiegel)
Recently, even Swiss bankers have been sending letters to their clients, asking them to cooperate with tax authorities and consider turning themselves in. This only heightens fears of the tax authorities. "We assume that a total of hundreds of billions of francs will flow out of Switzerland," said the head of the asset management division of UBS, a major Swiss bank, in late 2012. But not everything the banks are losing is actually leaving Switzerland. Customers are admittedly emptying out their accounts and safe deposit boxes. But partly as a result of the many uncertainties in the financial markets, a growing share of the money is being invested in tangible assets, such as art, wine and classic cars. A total of $4 trillion has reportedly been invested in "treasure assets," a category including various kinds of precious objects. This requires warehouse space that satisfies the most stringent security requirements. Swiss military bunkers blasted deep into Alpine rock are in great demand. But the free ports in Geneva and Zurich are even more popular because they offer what Swiss banks used to: the freedoms of a tax haven and maximum discretion.

Sexy Ukrainian thief’s crowdfunding website only raised $175 of $821,000 restitution needed to keep her out of prison (NYDN)
The sexy Ukrainian thief who launched a Kickstarter-style campaign to pay off her $821,000 restitution is getting plenty of attention - but not much money. Renata Shamrakova, 28, who pleaded guilty this March to stealing nearly $1 million from Nicky Hilton's ex-husband, says goodwill messages are flooding in - and the other nasty comments are getting the delete treatment. The raven-haired beauty created the "Restitution for Renata" page on GoFundMe.com because she's terrified of going to prison for one to three years, the Daily News first revealed. Her total take so far: just $175, from three different donors. "I would like to help," a male supporter wrote on Shamrakova's Facebook page Wednesday. "I'm going to spread the word ... In the meantime I wanted to ask you ... Are you single? Because you are very beautiful and I would love to take you out sometime." The note meant a lot to Shamrakova, she told The News.

Skydiver collides with shortstop, knocking him out for the season (AP)
A skydiver parachuting in before a summer league game accidentally kicked shortstop Mattingly Romanin in the face, knocking him to the ground and, it turns out, ending his season. The 20-year-old Mattingly said Wednesday he had a concussion and was trying to take the bizarre mishap in stride. ... Romanin said he tried to duck at the last moment, but it was too late. He was hit near the temple and knocked over. Medical personnel tended to him and he got up after several minutes. Romanin recalled his immediate response: "Wow, really? That just happened?"

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Opening Bell: 07.18.12

BofA Swings To Profit, Topping Analysts' Estimates (WSJ) Bank of America reported a profit of $2.46 billion, compared with a year-earlier loss of $8.83 billion. On a per-share basis, which reflect the payment of preferred dividends, earnings came in at 19 cents from a loss of 90 cents a year earlier. The year-ago quarter's results included a charge of $1.23 a share in mortgage-related and other adjustments. Total revenue surged 66% to $21.97 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 14 cents a share on $22.87 billion in revenue. The bank's profit was helped by reduced provisions for loan losses as credit quality continued to improve. Credit-loss provisions totaled $1.77 billion compared with $3.26 billion a year ago and $2.42 billion in the first quarter. HSBC Probe Brings Promises Regulator, Bank Will Clean Up Act (Bloomberg) HSBC executives apologized for opening their U.S. affiliate to a river of Mexican drug lords’ cash, and the U.S. regulator that failed to stem the flow vowed to prevent a repeat. “I deeply regret we did not act sooner and more decisively,” Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said at a day-long hearing yesterday of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He said his agency, which regulates HSBC’s U.S. arm, is partially responsible for letting Europe’s largest bank give terrorists, drug cartels and criminals access to the U.S. financial system and will take “a much more aggressive posture.” Opinion: Investing In America Produces The Best Returns, By Lloyd Blankfein (Politico) The question I’m most often asked these days is, “Where should I invest?” In recent years, we all know, there has been an unusually high degree of uncertainty. It falls into two broad categories: cyclical concerns that focus on the outlook for near-term economic growth and structural concerns that center on the viability of existing political or economic systems — for example, the European Union. The cyclical and structural challenges are considerable, and in some cases, even daunting. But when I meet with chief executive officers and institutional investors and they ask me where to invest, my response is that the United States remains as attractive as ever. And it would be even more attractive if it can make some short-term progress in a few key areas. Hugh Hendry: ‘Bad Things are Going to Happen’ (FT) Hendry believes that financial markets are single-digit years away from a crash that will present investors with opportunities of a lifetime. “Bad things are going to happen and I still think the closest analogy is the 1930s.” For Yahoo CEO, Two New Roles (WSJ) Just hours after Yahoo named Marissa Mayer as its new chief, the real conversation kicked in: how she will juggle pregnancy and being the CEO charged with saving a foundering Internet giant. The 37 year-old former Google executive is expecting her first child, a son, in early October. On Tuesday, she started her new job at Yahoo, which reported another quarter of lackluster sales growth...No Yahoo directors expressed concern about her pregnancy, according to Ms. Mayer, who told the board in late June, about a week after Yahoo's recruiter contacted her. She says she plans to work during her maternity leave, which will last several weeks...Ms. Mayer's husband, Zachary Bogue, a former attorney, is co-managing partner at Data Collective, an early-stage venture capital fund specializing in tech start-ups. JFK jet in laser scare (NYP) A lunatic aimed a powerful laser beam at an airliner flying over Long Island on its way into JFK — sending the pilot to the hospital and endangering the lives of the 84 people aboard. The first officer on JetBlue Flight 657 from Syracuse was treated for injuries to both eyes after the blinding flash of light lit up the cockpit Sunday night — as the FBI and Suffolk cops hunted for the person responsible, who could face federal prison time. The Embraer E190 jet landed safely, and the injured pilot — identified by sources as First Officer Robert Pemberton, 52 — was met at the gate and taken to Jamaica Hospital. Authorities believe the beam came from around West Islip, Babylon or Lindenhurst. “You wouldn’t think a pen laser would go that far of a distance,” said shocked West Babylon resident Cindy Konik, 50...A startled co-pilot, who was not identified, immediately took over the controls from his temporarily blinded colleague. “We just got lasered up here — two green flashes into the cockpit,” the captain radioed controllers at Ronkonkoma. Credit Suisse Sets Capital Plan (WSJ) moved Wednesday to stanch recent concerns about its financial strength, saying it is raising capital through the sale of convertible bonds, more divestments and the launch of another cost-savings program. It is a surprise twist in a spat with the country's central bank, which recently warned that Switzerland's number two bank wasn't strong enough to withstand a major crisis. Credit Suisse initially rejected the central bank's criticism, saying it was among the world's best-capitalized banks. This didn't impress investors, who offloaded their shares, wiping out 2 billion Swiss francs ($2.05 billion) in market value. At one point last month the bank even felt compelled to reassure investors that it was profitable in the second quarter, even though profitability over the period was never in doubt. Strong Possibility Of Further Fed Easing By September: Goldman (CNBC) In a testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered no new hints that the central bank is planning more easing, but repeated a pledge that the Fed “is prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote stronger economic recovery.” “While we think that a modest easing step is a strong possibility at the August or September meeting, we suspect that a large move is more likely to come after the election or in early 2013, barring rapid further deterioration in the already-cautious near term Fed economic outlook,” Goldman Sachs conomist Andrew Tilton said in a report. BlackRock's Net Slips 11% (WSJ) BlackRock reported a profit of $554 million, or $3.08 a share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $619 million, or $3.21 a share. Stripping out one-time items, per-share earnings rose to $3.10 from $3. Revenue slipped 5% to $2.23 billion. Analysts expected earnings of $3.01 a share on $2.26 billion in revenue, according to a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters. BNY Mellon profit falls 37 percent on litigation charge (Reuters) Bank of New York Mellon Corp said on Wednesday that second-quarter net income had fallen 37 percent on lower foreign exchange revenue and after it paid $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit. The world's largest custody bank reported net income of $466 million, or 39 cents a share, compared with $735 million, or 59 cents a share, a year earlier. As announced earlier this month, the results included an after-tax charge of $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit accusing the bank of imprudently investing their cash in a risky debt vehicle that collapsed in 2008. Quarterly revenue fell to $3.62 billion from $3.85 billion. Residents warned: 6-foot lizard loose in Colorado (AP) A sheriff has warned residents in a tourist town northwest of Colorado Springs that a strong, aggressive 6-foot lizard that eats small animals — including dogs and cats — is on the loose in the area. Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensinger said Tuesday that a 25-pound pet Nile monitor lizard has gone missing after breaking a mesh leash and crawling away. Ensinger said about 400 homes in the Woodland Park area were warned. He added that the animal, which escaped Monday and is known as Dino, has not bitten any humans — yet. "We have a 6-foot reptile out and about," Ensinger said. "If it gets hungry enough, we don't know what it will do." Ensinger said officers may use a tracking dog if Dino isn't located by Tuesday afternoon. "I'm not going after it," Ensinger said. "I don't do reptiles."

Opening Bell: 04.18.13

Morgan Stanley Sees Core Earnings Weaken (WSJ) Morgan Stanley saw core earnings weaken, although the investment bank swung to a first-quarter profit as it benefited from a comparison with a year-earlier period bogged down by a heavy charge. For the quarter, the bank reported a profit of $984 million, compared with a year-earlier loss of $94 million. The per-share profit, which reflects the payment of preferred dividends, was 49 cents compared with a loss of six cents a year earlier. The latest period featured a decline in fixed-income trading revenue, but strong stock trading and continued improvements in Morgan Stanley's wealth-management division, which was buoyed by strong markets. ... Revenue jumped 18% to $8.16 billion. Excluding debt valuation, revenue was $8.48 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently expected earnings, excluding debt-valuation adjustments, of 57 cents, on revenue of $8.35 billion. Blackstone First-Quarter Profit Rises on Fund Performance (Bloomberg) Blackstone Group LP (BX), the world’s biggest buyout firm, said first-quarter profit rose 28 percent as market gains lifted the carrying value of its holdings. Economic net income, a measure of earnings excluding some costs tied to the firm’s 2007 initial public offering, increased to $628.3 million, or 55 cents a share, from $491.2 million, or 44 cents, a year earlier, New York-based Blackstone said today in a statement. Analysts had expected earnings of 53 cents a share, according to the average of 15 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Barclays Head of Investment Banking Rich Ricci to Retire in June (Bloomberg) Barclays Plc’s Rich Ricci, the head of investment banking and one of the last members of former Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond’s management team, will retire at the end of June. Ricci, 49, will be replaced by Eric Bommensath and Tom King, 52, as co-chief executive officers of corporate and investment banking in May, the London-based bank said in a statement today. “The market will see this as an inevitable and appropriate piece of transitioning,” said Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec Plc (INVP) in London. “Few tears will be shed and the reshuffle will be broadly welcomed.” Special Report: The battle for the Swiss soul (Reuters) A sign on display in UBS's museum, from a bank founded in 1747 in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, could almost be Switzerland's mantra: "MASSIMA DISCREZIONE" it promises. Swiss bankers have long adhered to an unwritten code similar to that observed by doctors or priests. Bankers do not acknowledge clients in public for fear of exposing them as account holders; they often carry business cards with just a name, rather than bank or contact details; and, at least until the 1990s, they never advertised abroad. ... Even today, few Swiss like to discuss the fact that much of the country's prosperity was built on bankers helping foreigners evade taxes. Visitors should avoid personal questions, advises Communicaid, a consultancy which advises businesses on cross-cultural awareness. It would also be wise to steer clear of discussing "Swiss banks, money or Switzerland's military role in World War One or Two." Reinhart/Rogoff and Growth in a Time Before Debt (RortyBomb via Felix Salmon) Here is a simple question: does a high debt-to-GDP ratio better predict future growth rates, or past ones? If the former is true, it would be consistent with the argument that higher debt levels cause growth to fall. On the other hand, if higher debt "predicts" past growth, that is a signature of reverse causality. ... As is evident, current period debt-to-GDP is a pretty poor predictor of future GDP growth at debt-to-GDP ratios of 30 or greater—the range where one might expect to find a tipping point dynamic. But it does a great job predicting past growth. Ottawa sets up taxpayer-funded food truck in Mexico to promote Canadian cuisine (National Post) When author Anita Stewart first heard about the Canadian government’s new food truck parked in Mexico City, she laughed so hard she cried. The new Canada-branded, taxpayer-funded venture, which kicked off its three-week pilot project last week, is serving up a Mexican-ized version of poutine, using Oaxaca cheese instead of curds. Also on the menu are Alberta beef tourtière, and maple-glazed Albacore tuna. China Vows Wider Yuan Movement (WSJ) China's central bank plans to widen the yuan's trading band in the near future, People's Bank of China Vice Governor Yi Gang said Wednesday, suggesting that China's leaders will press ahead with change despite the surprise slowing of the economy. "The exchange rate is going to be more market-oriented," Mr. Yi said on a panel at the International Monetary Fund spring meetings in Washington. "I think in the near future we are going to increase the floating band even further." IMF warns on risks of excessive easing (FT) Extraordinarily loose monetary policy risks sparking credit bubbles that threaten to tip the world back into financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday. In its global financial stability report, the fund cautioned that policy reforms were needed urgently to restore long-term health to the financial system before the long-term dangers of monetary stimulus materialised. German Parliament Approves Bailout for Cyprus (WSJ) German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called the vote a "strong signal" by Germany in favor of the euro and the euro zone. The parliament also voted in favor of a seven-year extension of the maturity on European Financial Stability Facility loans for Ireland and Portugal with a large majority. SEC to Move Past Financial Crisis Cases Under New Chairman White (Bloomberg) Mary Jo White, the first former prosecutor to serve as chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, has pledged to run a “bold and unrelenting” enforcement program at the agency charged with regulating Wall Street. With financial crisis cases mostly done and some of the biggest insider-trading cases in history closed, White will have to chart a course into new areas to keep that pledge. White, who was sworn in last week, has already provided a few signals about what that might be. During her Senate confirmation hearing, she said she intends to focus on high- frequency and automated trading. She has also raised questions about a drop in the number of accounting fraud cases the agency has brought in recent years. Dispute in Hamptons Set Off by Effort to Hold Back Ocean (NYT) Soon after Hurricane Sandy hit last fall, Joshua Harris, a billionaire hedge fund founder and an owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, began to fear that his $25 million home on the water in Southampton might fall victim to the next major storm. So he installed a costly defense against incoming waves: a shield of large metal plates on the beach, camouflaged by sand. His neighbor, Mark Rachesky, another billionaire hedge fund founder, put up similar fortifications between his home and the surf. Chris Shumway, who closed his $8 billion hedge fund two years ago, trucked in boulders the size of Volkswagens. Across a section of this wealthy town, some residents, accustomed to having their way in the business world, are now trying to hold back the ocean. ‘Elvis’ is busted in ricin terror (NYP) The FBI last night busted a troubled Mississippi Elvis impersonator as the poison-wielding man who mailed ricin-laced letters to President Obama and two other officials. ... Despite his rock ’n’ roll hobby, Curtis shows his angry side on Facebook, where he lashes out in a conspiracy-filled rant. “I’m on the hidden front lines of a secret war,” he wrote. “They burned down my home, killed my dogs, my cat, my rabbit, blew up my 1966 Plymouth Valiant . . . and guess what? I am still a thorn in their corrupt anals! I will remain here until Jesus Christ decides it’s time for me to go.”

Opening Bell: 10.25.12

Credit Suisse Profit Falls (Reuters) The Swiss bank said on Thursday third-quarter net profit fell 63 percent to 254 million francs, missing analysts' average forecast of 370 million. The quarter was hit by 1.05 billion francs in charges, mainly linked to its own debt. Brady Dougan: More Tough Times Ahead For Financials (CNBC) More aggressive cost cutting will be necessary in the coming years, Credit Suisse CEO Brady Dougan told CNBC Thursday, adding that he expects the financial services industry to continue to operate in a volatile market environment. The bank is targeting cost savings of a billion Swiss francs ($1.07 billion) by next year with further cuts in the years after that. “We believe we should be in mode of driving business more efficiently. We have cut 2 billion Swiss francs in the last year and we can take another billion in 2013 and [we have] set further targets for 2014 and 2015. We want to drive that efficiency and we are in a volatile revenue environment and that’ll be the case for the industry for some time,” Dougan said. CEOs Call For Deficit Action (WSJ) Chief executives of more than 80 big-name U.S. corporations, from Aetna to Weyerhaeuser Co. are banding together to pressure Congress to reduce the federal deficit with tax-revenue increases as well as spending cuts. The CEOs, in a statement to be released on Thursday, say any fiscal plan "that can succeed both financially and politically" has to limit the growth of health-care spending, make Social Security solvent and "include comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues and reduces the deficit." The CEOs who signed the manifesto deem tax increases inevitable no matter which party succeeds at the polls in November. "There is no possible way; you can do the arithmetic a million different ways" to avoid raising taxes, said Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna. "You can't tax your way to fix this problem, and you can't cut entitlements enough to fix this problem." Crew Of Argentine Ship Seized By Hedge Fund Elliot Associates Returns Home (AP) They were supposed to sail the Argentine military's signature tall ship into the port of Buenos Aires in full glory after a goodwill tour asserting the South American country's place in the world. Instead, hundreds of sailors had to abandon their frigate, evacuated on orders from President Cristina Fernandez, after the ARA Libertad was detained by a Ghanaian judge in a debt dispute. Frustrated and disheartened but determined to go back as soon as possible to retrieve their three-masted ship, the sailors arrived home early Thursday on an Air France charter. The Argentine government couldn't send one of its own planes, for fear that it, too, could be seized as collateral. China Surpasses US as Top Foreign Investment Venue (Reuters) China overtook the U.S. as the world's top destination for foreign direct investment in the first half of 2012, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. China absorbed $59.1 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the first six months, down slightly from $60.9 billion a year earlier, the agency said in a report. The United States attracted $57.4 billion in 2012's first half, down 39 percent from a year earlier, it said. Stephen Colbert Makes Donald Trump An Offer (Mediaite) Reality star Donald Trump yesterday offered to donate $5 million to a charity of Barack Obama‘s choosing if the President “opens up and gives his college records and applications, and if he gives his passport applications and records.” Stephen Colbert, touched by Trump’s generosity, made an offer of his own last night. He is vowing to pledge $1 million from his Super PAC to any charity Trump wants if: “…you let me dip my balls in your mouth.” Fed Steady On Policy (WSJ) The Fed expanded bond purchasing at its September meeting and plans to do its next major evaluation of its bond-buying programs at its final meeting of the year on Dec. 11-12. Policy makers are still gathering evidence on whether their programs are working. "The Committee remains concerned that, without sufficient policy accommodation, economic growth might not be strong enough to generate sustained improvement in labor market conditions," the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed's policy-making committee, said in a statement issued at the end of its two-day meeting. Jobless Claims Show Moderate Labor Progress (Bloomberg) Jobless claims decreased by 23,000 to 369,000 in the week ended Oct. 20 from a revised 392,000 the prior period, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. Lazard Profit Drops As Merger-Advisory Revenue Falls (Bloomberg) Lazard, the largest independent merger-advisory firm, posted a 33 percent drop in third-quarter profit as revenue from advising on mergers declined. The firm said it would implement a cost-cutting plan. Earnings fell to $35.4 million, or 26 cents a share, from $52.9 million, or 39 cents, a year earlier, the Hamilton, Bermuda-based firm said today in a statement. The average estimate of 11 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for per-share profit of 21 cents. Japanese man pays $780K for virginity of 20-year-old Brazil woman, who’ll use money for charity housing project (NYDN) A Brazilian student is set to sell her virginity for a staggering $780,000 after she put it up for auction online. A man called Natsu, from Japan, fended off strong competition from American bidders Jack Miller and Jack Right, and a big-spender from India, Rudra Chatterjee, to secure a date with 20-year-old Catarina Migliorini. The auction ended at 4 a.m. EST this morning, and the physical education student — who said she will use the cash to build homes for poverty-stricken families — was the subject of 15 bids. “The auction is just business, I'm a romantic girl at heart and believe in love. But this will make a big difference to my area,” she told Folha newspaper. “If you only do it once in your life then you are not a prostitute, just like if you take one amazing photograph it does not automatically make you a photographer.

Opening Bell: 10.17.12

BofA Sees Profit Slump (WSJ) Bank of America reported a profit $340 million versus a profit of $6.23 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, which includes the payment of preferred dividends, the bank reported a profit of less than a penny versus 56 cents a year earlier. The year-earlier period included 27 cents a share in net gains from one-time. Revenue fell 28% to $20.43 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a per-share loss of seven cents on revenue of $21.89 billion. BNY Mellon Profit Increases as Rising Stocks Boost Assets (Bloomberg) Net income increased to $720 million, or 61 cents a share, from $651 million, or 53 cents, a year earlier, the New York- based bank said today in a statement. Analysts had expected the New York-based company to report a profit of 54 cents a share, according to the average of 16 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Citi's Pandit Quits Amid Board Clash (WSJ) The shake-up amounts to an extraordinary flexing of boardroom muscle at Citigroup, a company that until recently had a board stocked with directors handpicked by former CEO Sanford Weill who rarely challenged management decisions. The action raises questions about whether the sprawling Citigroup empire ultimately will be dramatically pared back or broken up, something Mr. Pandit opposed. When it was formed in 1998, Citigroup was envisaged as the prototype of the modern bank, a "financial supermarket" with tentacles in all areas of lending, securities and deposits. Its creation helped spark the end of the Depression-era Glass Steagall Act separating securities and banking. Citigroup's New CEO Has A Lot To Tackle (Fortune) Corbat is a Connecticut native. He is listed as the owner of a 4-bedroom, 1-and-a-half-bath, 3,500 square foot Manhattan apartment on Central Park West. The apartment has a fireplace and exposed wood beams in the living room. But Corbat doesn't appear to live there. According to the real estate website Streeteasy, the apartment was rented out in March for $33,000 a month. Corbat also owns a house in 6,300 square foot house in Wilson, Wyoming. That house was estimated to be worth $3.7 million in 2010, according to real estate website Trulia. Pay seems to be part of the reason for Pandit's department. Earlier this year, shareholders voted to reject a $15 million pay package for the Citi's former CEO. Corbat said he will take $1.5 million as a base salary, plus a bonus to be determined later. RBS Exits Government Insurance Plan (WSJ) RBS said it has struck a deal with the U.K. Treasury to exit the government's Asset Protection Scheme, effective Thursday, the earliest date possible under the terms of the contract. The program was crafted at the height of the financial crisis in an effort to shield banks by insuring their assets after the lenders absorbed an initial loss. The insurance program is now considered largely unnecessary because many of RBS's insured assets have been sold or written off. The bank, which is 81% government-owned, will have paid £2.5 billion ($4.03 billion) in fees for its participation in the APS without having made a claim, in addition to about £1.5 billion paid to the Treasury for support received during the financial crisis. Passenger Jet In Low Altitude Search (Australian) An Air Canada jet descended from 38,000ft to as low as 3700ft (1128m) to allow passengers to look for a yacht missing off the NSW coast. The Boeing 777 flying from Vancouver to Sydney joined an Air New Zealand Airbus A320 in the initial search for the damaged boat. Captain Andrew Robertson said the airline was approaching top of descent and talking to air traffic control in Brisbane at 8.18am when it was asked to assist in the search. The flight crew programmed the coordinates ofthe stricken yacht into the aircraft's flight computer and determined it was about 160 nautical miles (296km) further out from the coast than the 777 but that the aircraft was enough fuel to reach the location.. "We were at 38,000ft and we just kept going down," said Captain Andrew Robertson. "I knew we would have to get really low and we got down to 5000ft above the water as we approached the area. "I had already made a PA announcement telling passengers what we were doing and as we got into the area, I said: "We're coming into the search area, please everybody look out to the window and if you seen anything let us know. Norway’s Housing Boom Could Lead to Spain-Style Bust, Say Some (CNBC) Norway’s housing sector, which has seen prices jump by almost 30 percent since 2006 — could end up replicating a pattern of housing booms and busts seen across the globe, from the U.S. to Japan to Spain and Ireland, according to a report by Bank of New York Mellon. Indeed, Norway's house price rise has been so dramatic that the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco wrote a paper on the subject in June that made parallels between the lead up to the U.S. housing crisis and the “irrationally exuberant bubble” of Norway’s present boom. BlackRock Profit Rises 7.9% on as Assets Rise on ETFs (Bloomberg) Net income climbed 7.9 percent to $642 million, or $3.65 a share, from $595 million, or $3.23, a year earlier, the New York-based company said today in a statement. Excluding certain one-time items, profit of $3.47 per share exceeded the $3.32-a- share average estimate of 19 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Knight Capital Posts Third-Quarter Loss Due To Fallout Over Software Glitch (AP) The company company reported a loss attributable to common shareholders of $764.3 million, or $6.30 per share, for the period ended Sept. 30. That compares with net income of $26.9 million, or 29 cents per share, a year ago. Knight Capital said Wednesday that the loss from the software glitch was more than $400 million. Excluding $2.46 per share related to the software glitch and other items, earnings came to a penny per share. Analysts forecast 2 cents per share, according to a FactSet survey. Police: Alanis Morissette Music Leads To Domestic Violence (N4J) A 24-year-old Jacksonville man who didn't like his boyfriend's taste in music let him know about it by hitting him in the face with a plate, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Police said 33-year-old Todd Fletcher has a large cut on the side of his face to prove it. Allen Casey was arrested Sunday after police said he acted on his displeasure that Fletcher was listening to Alanis Morissette. "That's all that (expletive) listens to," Casey said, according to a police report.

Opening Bell: 04.19.12

Morgan Stanley Beats Estimates as Trading Gain Tops Peers (Bloomberg) The net loss of $94 million, or 6 cents a share, compared with profit of $968 million, or 50 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based company said today in a statement. Excluding accounting charges tied to the firm’s own credit spreads, profit was 71 cents a share, topping the 44-cent average estimate of 17 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Fixed-income trading revenue surged 34 percent, surpassing the 19 percent gain at Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s drop of more than 15 percent, excluding accounting adjustments. Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman, 53, has set a goal of 15 percent return on equity after lingering pressures from the financial crisis held that measure below 10 percent for five straight years. First-quarter return on equity was 9.2 percent. BofA Profit Falls But Beats Estimates (WSJ) The bank reported a profit of $653 million, compared with a year-earlier profit of $2.05 billion. Per-share earnings, which reflect the payment of preferred dividends, fell to three cents from 17 cents a year ago. The latest quarter included, among other items, a $4.8 billion pretax hit tied to changes in the value of the bank's debt. Excluding accounting changes related to the bank's debt, BofA reported profits of 31 cents per share, compared with the 12 cents estimated by analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Blackstone First-Quarter Profit Falls on Performance Fees (Bloomberg) Economic net income, a measure of earnings excluding some costs tied to the firm’s 2007 initial public offering, dropped to $432.3 million, or 39 cents a share, from $571 million, or 51 cents, a year earlier, New York-based Blackstone said today in a statement. Analysts had expected earnings of 40 cents a share, according to the average of nine estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Fitch Analyst Reportedly Warns on Dutch Rating (Reuters) "The Dutch are on the edge of a negative rating action," the Telegraph quoted Fitch analyst Chris Pryce, the rating agency's expert on the Netherlands, as saying. Ackman Plans 2013 listing for $4bn fund (FT) Pershing Square is planning a $4bn public flotation for a new fund in January 2013. Bill Ackman intends to float the vehicle, which has already been set up in Guernsey and is known as Pershing Square Holdings, on a "major exchange." PSH will be a shell company and invest all its assets in Pershing Square’s offshore hedge funds. As such, after flotation, it would offer Mr Ackman a source of permanent capital. Man accuses Blackhawks, Cubs of 'stealing his ideas' (Chicago Tribune) Emanuel Kuvakos, 56, was arrested Tuesday night and charged with three counts of misdemeanor harassment by electronic means, police said. Kuvakos sent “a number’’ of emails to Blackhawks CEO John McDonough and to Jim Hendry, the former general manager of the Chicago Cubs, that accused them of “stealing his ideas to win championships,’’ according to a police report. On Saturday, he sent them another email stating that he would keep the Blackhawks from winning the Stanley Cup, police said. While being interviewed by authorities, he claimed he also sent a message to Rocky Wirtz, the Blackhawks owner, saying that if he ever saw Wirtz, he would beat him, according to the police report. Kuvakos, whose nickname is “Mike,” said during a telephone interview with the Chicago Tribune that he has been a freelance sportswriter for 30 years, and claimed he is a sports psychologist and “savant” who works for the Blackhawks, White Sox and the Cubs. Talks With Instagram Suggest a $104 Billion Valuation for Facebook (Dealbook) Facebook bought the photo-sharing service for $1 billion in early April, agreeing to pay roughly 30 percent in cash and 70 percent in stock, according to people briefed on the negotiations who did not want to be identified because the discussions were private. At that level, Facebook is pegging its own stock price at roughly $30 a share. Based on those numbers, the giant social network is valued at north of $75 billion. But Facebook could actually be worth more. During the negotiations with Instagram, the parties framed the deal around a logical assumption: Facebook could soon trade publicly at a much higher market value. As part of the talks, the companies discussed a potential value of about $104 billion for Facebook, these people said. One of Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom, first broached the number, one of the people said. At $104 billion, the value is roughly in line with where Facebook has at times traded on the secondary market: shares of the privately held company have been selling for as high as $40. More Americans Than Forecast Filed Weekly Jobless Claims (Bloomberg) Jobless claims fell by 2,000 to 386,000 in the week ended April 14 from a revised 388,000 the prior period that was higher than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 47 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a drop to 370,000. KKR's Real-Estate Arm Makes Its First Investment (WSJ) The Yorktown Center mall has 1.5 million square feet of retail space and more than 150 stores including a J.C. Penney and a Victoria's Secret. KKR's co-investor in the deal is YTC Pacific, which will manage the property, these people said. As is typical in a private-equity real-estate investment, KKR plans to improve the look of the mall and increase the occupancy rate with an eye toward reselling the property. Facebook Photo Sinks Man Who Stole Police Gas (TSG) A Kentucky man is facing a misdemeanor rap after he siphoned gasoline from a police car, a theft that came to the attention of cops after the perp posted a Facebook photo memorializing the crime. As Michael Baker, 20, was swiping the gas last month from a Jenkins Police Department squad car, he made sure to flip the bird as his girlfriend snapped a picture. While the siphoning photo has been removed from his Facebook page, Baker yesterday updated his 380 friends on his legal problems. “just got out of jail,” he wrote in one post, adding later that “yea lol i went too jail over facebook.” Responding to a friend who had not seen the image before it was yanked, Baker assured, “yea lol u would just have to seen it it was funny as hell tho.”